Sunday 17 December 2017

Witness says she saw accused set fire to a den where schoolboy was sleeping, trial told

Declan Brennan

The trial of a man accused of the manslaughter of a boy who died in a fire at a makeshift den has heard a witness say she saw the accused start the fire.

Stephen Hughes was 12 years old when he died in the fire in the den where he had been sleeping with his friend thirteen years ago.

Dermot Griffin (54) of Ballyfermot Road, Ballyfermot has pleaded not guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to manslaughter at Rossfield Avenue, Tallaght on September 1, 2001.

Linda Prentice (34) told Mary Rose Gearty SC, prosecuting, that on the night of the incident she was standing in view of the children's hut waiting to meet someone.

She said she saw the accused walking into the garden next to the hut, adding: "He lit a white thing in his hand on fire and threw it inside the hut".

Ms Prentice said that she got a bit of a fright and hid behind a very large rock. She said that from here she could hear the accused "giving out" and talking to himself as he walked away from the garden.

She told the court she heard him saying to himself "Are you happy now?" She said there was a dog with him.

Under cross-examination by Bernard Condon SC, defending, the witness said she had been addicted to heroin from her teenage years to around 2011.

An ex-partner of the accused testified today that the accused had spent the day before the fatal fire talking about burning the hut down.

Tracey Deegan (38) told gardai in January 2011 that on the night Mr Griffin was at home with her when had told her he was going out to burn it down.

She told them then that when he came back he told her he had felt a foot in the hut. Ms Deegan told gardai that she asked him if he was still going to set the hut on fire and said that the accused said he would.

"He said something along the lines ‘it would frighten them’," she told gardai.

She told gardai then that the accused then took some paper and went out again.  Shortly after his return, she said, they heard shouting and they both went out and saw the fire.

The witness told gardai: "Dermot looked at me in a shocked manner. He said there were kids in that".

Mr Condon put it to her that this version of events was a lie. She denied this but admitted she had lied to gardai in 2001 when she first provided an alibi for her then partner.

She told gardai then that the accused had stayed on the sofa with her all that night after they had smoked heroin and watched a movie.

Ms Deegan agreed with Ms Gearty that she was covering for Mr Griffin at the time, adding: "I was, I was coached".

Ms Deegan said that she had told the truth in her evidence during this trial.

She said: "I know that I lied in the past, I wasn't in a very good place. It's not easy to sit up here and admit you're a liar and then tell the truth".

Ms Deegan admitted that she has abused cocaine, heroin and other drugs in the past and that she does not know how much heroin she smoked on the night of the fatal fire.

The trial continues before Judge Patricia Ryan and a jury.

Irish Independent

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